Engine Problem: A Long Road Ahead of China’s J-20 Fighters to Fix Its Weaknesses

The 13th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, or Airshow China 2021, kicked off in Zhuhai, South China’s Guangdong Province, on last Tuesday, with aerial performances, highlighted by two J-20 fourth-generation aircraft making their debut with domestically built WS-10C engines instead of Russian Saturn AL-31FM2 engine.

Ridzwan Rahmat, principal defense analyst at Janes, said a major weakness of the J-20 remained unresolved: its engine.

Immediately after the opening event, the PLA Air Force confirmed that J-20 fighter jets involved in the flight performance on Tuesday have already been fitted with domestically built engines.

Analyzing the flights of the J-20 at the air show, experts note that the fighter “clearly lacks dynamics.” In flight, the plane does not demonstrate super-manoeuvrability flight characteristics, especially when performing aerobatics.

The aerobatics are selected in such a way that the problems with their implementation are not striking. And these flights were also carried out without a payload.

It should be noted that an updated modification of the fourth-generation Chinese fighter, the J-20B, was presented at the Zhuhai air show. These aircraft are distinguished by an enlarged internal compartment for the placement of weapons, which at the same time affected the combat radius.

Due to a decrease in the volume of fuel tanks, the combat range of the J-20B has decreased by about 7 percent.

The report said the aircraft had entered mass production and output would increase year by year, without giving numbers.

The J-20 made its debut in 2011, but the jet was finalized and commissioned in 2017, and has since evolved into the modified version J-20B, with thrust vector controls.

China Central Television (CCTV), a state-run broadcaster, revealed recently that the aircraft has been equipped with a retractable refueling probe. With aerial refueling capabilities, the J-20 can extend its reach beyond a reported 1,100 kilometers, giving China the ability to better patrol disputed waterways like the South China Sea.

China junks Russian AL-31F engine

As part of its thrust to modernize its premier fighter aircraft, China recently upgraded the J-20 stealth fighter’s engine replacing it with a homegrown product. Chinese engineers have upgraded the Russian AL-31F engine with domestically built WS-10C engine.

The move comes as India packed its Air Force with eight Rafale fighters last year to boost its strike capability as tensions mounted in eastern Ladakh.

J-20 with Russian engine

Although China on Wednesday announced it was pulling back its troops from frontline areas along the LAC but Air Force from both countries continue to bolster their war capability.

The manufacturer of WS-10C engines claimed that by the end of this year all problems with these engines could be eliminated. In particular, it was stated that the loss of thrust of powerplant when it reaches operating temperatures will be eliminated.

It is noted that there were factory paint visible on the skin of aircraft shows that the aircraft underwent maintenance work for its fuselage section, the aircraft was not prepared with radar absorbent coating, — the J-20 is an aircraft, at best, belongs to the 4+ generation without super-manoeuvrability capabilities.

J-20 vs Taiwan

China has ramped up fighter flights and warship crossings near Taiwan or through the Taiwan Strait since Tsai was first elected in 2016, as she has refused to acknowledge that the island is part of “one China”.

The United States has remained Taiwan’s leading unofficial ally and arms supplier, but until recently Taiwan had struggled to buy new fighter jets.

Beijing has ramped up military, diplomatic and economic pressure since Tsai first took office in 2016 as she has refused to acknowledge that Taiwan is part of “one China”.

According to reports, China has deployed J-20 stealth fighter jets  200 miles from Ladakh airbase. Satellite images in mid-August showed two jets at Hotan amid the India-China standoff in eastern Ladakh.

To Summarize

Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming said China needed more types of aircraft with better combat radius or aerial refueling capability, especially transport planes and bombers, to support its long-term goals.

“China cannot rely only on J-20s to rule the sky, which can only be achieved if Beijing has enough transport aircraft, refueling aircraft and bombers,” he said. “Without these vital aircraft, China won’t have meaningful long-distance attacking and logistics capabilities.”

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